Maui parasailing companies say safety first

Despite the National Transportation Safety Board’s report Tuesday that declared parasailing a “risky” activity, Maui parasailing companies say their tours “couldn’t be safer.”

“We consider ourselves not a parasailing company, we are a risk management business. Parasailing is the bonus and fun part of it. We are a risk management industry, that is first and foremost,” said UFO Parasail office manager Tina Skjerseth.

Since the company launched on Maui in 1985 and branched out to Kona in 1992, UFO Parasail has flown more than 1 million customers. No serious parasailing-related injuries or accidents have occurred in the 30-year history of the business, company officials said.

“This is not an unsafe industry, it’s irreputable operators and the equipment they’re using. We’re thrown into it because we are labeled a parasailing company,” she said, noting that no Maui-specific numbers were provided in the NTSB report.

The NTSB urged the U.S. Coast Guard and other entities to better regulate parasailing, saying there are currently no uniform requirements for operator training, equipment inspection or suspension of operations in bad weather. About 3 million to 5 million people participate in parasailing each year with about 325 operators in the U.S. and its territories.

An attempt to reach U.S. Coast Guard officials Thursday for a comment was unsuccessful.

Maui Fire Department Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga said Thursday that Lahaina fire officials could not recall having responded to any parasailing accidents in recent years.

UFO Parasail, one of two parasailing companies on Maui, is the “longest-running parasail operation in Hawaii,” company President Greg VanderLaan said in an email.

“We are on the leading edge of technology and continuously reinvest in new and improved equipment,” VanderLaan said.

That equipment includes a new over-the-shoulder full-body harness system and personal floatation devices in the unlikely event of a water landing. All equipment is inspected daily.

Additionally, the parasail line is replaced at least every six months, and tours are conducted only when wind is 15 knots or less.

VanderLaan said these stringent, self-imposed protocols and operational guidelines are key to ensure the safety of passengers.

“At UFO, we self-regulate to ensure safety is our number one priority and would embrace standards to ensure the industry thrives,” he said. “To generalize parasailing as a risky activity does a disservice to those businesses that have a long track record of providing safe service for 30 years.”

A representative from West Maui Parasail, the other Maui parasailing business, said there have not been any major parasailing injuries or accidents in the company’s 25-year history.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at